A Slowing Sinking City ~ Venezia, Italia (Seconda Parte)

After taking the Venice Grand Canal tour, it was time to step inside some of the elaborate buildings we’d seen from the water.

We savored our early morning wanderings, a wonderful way to watch Venice wake ~ merchants getting products hand-carted to their doorsteps, children standing hand-in-hand with parents at vaporetto stops, waiting for their school ride, silent gondolier boats gently bobbing canal side, and fishermen casting out their first lines of the day.

Here is a glimpse at our excursions during our visit to this unique city:

1) St. Mark’s Square

This political and religious center of Venice turns into a giant dance floor at night and is said to be the place for romance, with orchestras playing and bodies swaying, but early morning it’s eerily quiet.

The Campanile (bell tower) sits at the edge of the square and guards the Grand Canal.  You can ride an elevator 325’ to the top of the tower for some of the best views of Venice, if you care to stand in long lines to do so.  We took a pass.

2) St. Mark’s Basilica

Before the basilica opens its doors, there is a side chapel available for those who wish to sit in silence. This was my main reason for arriving so early.  As we stepped through the door, mass was being said in another part of the church, in Italian of course.  Although I couldn’t understand the words, I felt their lyrical message being carried throughout the basilica, filling the gilded, mosaic dome.  I couldn’t imagine a more peaceful way to begin my day than sitting in silence in this holiest of places.  It was quite a humbling experience.

When the doors later opened to tourists, we were there to tour the most famous church in Venice, built in the 11th century to replace an earlier chapel.  Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside, which is just as well as I couldn’t begin to capture the exquisite beauty found inside this holy space.  The interior walls and domed ceiling, depicting Christ ascending into heaven, glow with gold mosaics and colored marble.

Venetians smuggled St. Mark’s bones into the city in A.D. 828, where they were interred under the main altar of the original church.  In the year 1094, when the present church was almost complete, the church officials were preparing to re-inter St. Mark’s bones under the new altar when they realized that during the long years of the church’s construction they had forgotten where they stored the remains…oops!  All parishioners bowed down to pray for help and, led by the doge, they soon found their patron saint.

Thanks to one of the lower points in Christian history, when Venetian crusaders looted the city of Constantinople and brought the plunder back home, we now can view the Golden Altarpiece.  Sparkling brightly behind the main altar, it is made of enamels illustrating religious scenes, all set in a gold frame and studded with sparkling precious gems from the year 1100.

3) San Marco Museum

Upstairs in the basilica, the museum offers a glimpse at some of the mosaic sections removed from the original church, along with the larger-than-life bronze horses that once graced the balcony of the church. Stone replicas now stand in their place.  As this was part of the basilica, no photos were allowed.

4) Accademia Gallery

This is Venice’s top art museum, filled with highlights of the Venetian Renaissance.  The artwork begins in the Middle Ages and runs to the 1700’s.

5) La Salute Church

Topped by a crown-shaped dome, this Church of St. Mary of Good Health was built to honor the Virgin Mary and thank God for delivering the people of Venice from the plague of 1630 that killed almost one-third of the city’s population.

6) Doge’s Palace

Built to illustrate the power and wealth of the Republic, the doge (ruling duke) lived with his family in this palace. It is also the place where the Senate met, deliberated, and passed law.

The grand staircase is well worth the visit, as are the many rooms filled with artistic treasures.  The Doge Palace houses the largest oil painting in the world, Tintoretto’s Paradise.

7) Bridge of Sighs

This small bridge spans a canal that connects the Doge Palace with the prison.  Legend has it that a condemned man would be led over this bridge on his way to prison, take one last look at Venice through the marble-trellised windows, and sigh.  Prison cells are eerie and three levels deep.

8) San Giorgio Maggiore Monastery

On a small island across from St. Mark’s Square, the white marble façade of San Giorgio Maggiore Monastery gleams brilliantly against the azure water of the Grand Canal.  This is another of Venice’s beautiful churches to explore and a great place to get a bird’s-eye view of Venice from the bell tower.

The monastic community of San Giorgio was founded in A.D. 982.  At one time you could rent rooms from the friars, but unfortunately they no longer offer this.

A large blessing hand, entitled “Together”, created by artisan Jaume Plensa, formed of 8 alphabets – Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, and Latin, hangs from the ceiling. It is meant to be an inviting and welcoming symbol of mercy.

“Today more than ever we must show that living together as brothers in total and mutual respect, cultural and spiritual, is the only way to live in peace.”

Getting deeper into Venice as the shadows lengthen
Getting deeper into Venice as the shadows lengthen

With all the elegant palaces to visit, the ancient works of art to study, and the history to soak in, some of our fondest memories of Venice will be our wanderings along the alleyways deep in the city. Try as we might to get lost so I could use my “City Maps 2 Go” app, we never did.

A batch of wine, waiting to be bottled
A batch of wine, waiting to be bottled
Terry found another furry friend in one of those alleyways.
Terry found another furry friend in one of those alleyways.

Surprises awaited us around every turn, across each bridge that spanned the canals.  Nondescript doors opened into tiny little wine bars and enchanting restaurants, and artisanal gelato shops abounded. Along with seeing so many fascinating sights, it seems we may have eaten our way through Venice as well. Ahh, la vita di Venezia!

Next Up: Cinque Terre